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Panda

Over the past 2 days, the SEO community has received confirmation that Google is rolling out not one, but two web spam focused algorithm updates; Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan 2.0. Panda 4.0 was confirmed by Matt Cutts on Twitter, while Search Engine Land initially announced the newest Payday Loan update which was later verified by Cutts.

As with any major algorithm update, there is much more speculation than there are facts at the moment. However we do know a little bit about the roll outs of the algorithm updates and what they are focused on.

Panda 4.0

Panda 4.0 is being called the ‘softer update’ in relation to its precursor thanks to a discussion back in March. It has been stated that the update affects different language queries to different extents, but Google estimates the effect on English searches is about 7.5% of queries.

Considering the reports of sites seeing significant recoveries, it is safe to assume this update is a little more generous and more welcomed than than the previous updates to Panda.

Payday Loan 2.0

The Payday Loan Algorithm is a bit less well known, as it was first launched last June and only targets ‘very spammy queries’; primarily the type of spammy queries associated with payday loans, insurance, and accident claims.

A Google Spokesperson issues a statement on the update, saying:

“Over the weekend we began rolling out a new algorithmic update. The update was neither Panda nor Penguin – it was the next generation of an algorithm that originally rolled out last summer for very spammy queries.”

So far estimates say only .2% of English queries were affected by this update, though this is also an international rollout affecting different languages to different extents.

You may have seen headlines proclaiming “Links are dead!” ever since the roll out of Google’s big algorithm changes, Penguin and Panda. However, it has been over two years since these changes started taking place, and there is still a heated debate surrounding just how useful links are in the hunt for high rankings. Google has remained largely mum on the issue, though their statements have largely suggested that links are only slightly less important than they were a few years ago.

Now, Matt Cutts has used one of his Webmaster Chat videos to address the question, suggesting for the first time that links may be going away (eventually).

The statement isn’t much of a shocker to the SEO community, but it is one of the first signs that links are being steadily devalued. Don’t get too excited however, you can expect links to be a significant part of SEO if Cutts is to be believed.

Matt explained that Google’s focus right now is on finding ways to parse out the content that will meet the expectations of expert users. Unfortunately, Google only has limited means of evaluating the content. This is mostly done by estimating the traffic, content style, keyword density, and engagement on a site, but links have always been used as a mark of quality. Thankfully, Google has also gotten better at judging which links are valuable.

However, as Google improves at understanding the natural language we use, it doesn’t have to rely on links as strongly. It can put more weight on the value of content and other factors expert users consider.

Cutts says it will be years before links go anywhere, but Google is slowly distancing themselves from links. It may be time to put up the headlines claiming links are dead and wait for the day when links finally don’t serve a legitimate person. We won’t reach that point for a while.

Big vs. Small

One of the most common excuses I hear from small businesses who aren’t taking advantage of online marketing is the fear that a smaller local business can’t compete with the big names you frequently see at the top of the search results. It is such a prevalent concern that Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts finally had to address it in one of his frequent Webmaster Help videos.

Specifically, Cutts was asked:

How can smaller sites with superior content ever rank over sites with superior traffic? It’s a vicious circle: A regional or brick-and-mortar brand has higher traffic, leads to a higher rank, which leads to higher traffic, ad infinitum.

Thankfully, the notion that bigger brands automatically can leverage traffic to maintain high visibility is (mostly) false, as Cutts explains. In many ways, search engines are one of the great equalizers, in that they theoretically rank all sites the same way. Big brands are held up to the same standards as smaller or more local businesses.

I would wager Cutts specifically chose this question as it is worded in a way that allows for the most optimistic answer. Cutts is absolutely right when he says that smaller sites with superior content can quite possibly overtake their more recognizable competition. When businesses get to a certain size, they can become lumbering and sluggish, which makes it much easier for a more agile brand invested in their online presence to perform higher.

The larger brand may still get more traffic, but you can steal their spot in the rankings by getting real engagement and interest in your content.

The real trick is finding your niche. While Cutts’ answer prides content quality and performance over all others, he forgets to mention that some brands may be able to outperform you in many markets. The big brands may be large and encumbered, but they also have the resources to put up a good fight for online visibility, which a small brand with less resources may not win across the board.

However, if you can find your niche, you don’t have to worry about outperforming the well-funded giant in every aspect. You just have to beat them in your one special area. If you have your niche covered well, you’ll be able to grow into other niches until you gradually become a giant too.

You can see Matt Cutts’ full Webmaster Help video below:

google-red-cardYou would think most guest blog networks would be watching their steps in the wake of the widely talked about penalty levied against MyBlogGuest, but one network named PostJoint has remained steadfast, if not cocky. Unsurprisingly, that means they are the lucky recipient of the second penalty Google is giving to a guest blog network.

Last week, someone tweeted to Matt Cutts that PostJoint had been hit, and it didn’t take Matt long to confirm that action had been taken, stating that “any link or guest blog network that claims to have ‘zero footprints’ is waving a giant red flag.”

When Cutts first began to talk about guest blogging being done for, both PostJoint and MyBlogGuest were outspoken in their defense. The operators of MyBlogGuest tried to argue that they didn’t fit the definition of a guest blog network, and PostJoint tried to explain how they were different from MyBlogGuest after their penalty. Neither defense managed to protect either network.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the penalty is the response PostJoint has given in their blog titled “Matt Cuts Us Out“. The short story is that PostJoint is confused about the warnings they received while openly admitting that at least 16% of their network received the unnatural links notification.

All of that leads them to conclude: “The fact that only 16% of our sites have been hit shows that Google can’t infact trace all of the sites using PostJoint.” Clearly, PostJoint doesn’t understand how Google’s penalty system works.

For an industry that relies on as much data as the SEO market does, there is never much certainty that the popular optimization tactic being preached at the moment is a legitimate strategy. We rarely have the definitive answers from the source needed to keep all the confusion down, and new myths seem to spring up overnight.

To counter the constant flow of SEO myths, Google’s distinguished engineer Matt Cutts used one of his recent Webmaster Help videos to debunk many of the misconceptions surrounding the world’s most popular search engine.

This isn’t the first time Cutts has used his regular video message to debunk SEO myths, but this time he focuses on a specific type of myth that has become increasingly widespread as Google seems to keep narrowing their guidelines and offering greater space to ads.

Cutts starts by tackling the myth “if you buy ads you’ll rank higher in Google” and the opposing legend that not buying ads is the key to high rankings. In Matt Cutts’ perspective, these fables are tied to the notion that Google makes all of their decisions in an effort to force webmasters to buy more ads.

The problem with that idea is that it doesn’t actually reflect how Google thinks about their operations. The fact is, webmasters are rarely the main priority for the search engine to begin with. Instead, according to Cutts, Google’s rationale behind all changes is simply that they want to return the best search results possible to keep users happy and keep them coming back.

Of course, no one is denying that Google would like users to see ads and generate revenue, but that is never the prime motivation for changes like algorithm updates.

On a similar note, Matt uses the second half of the video to discuss the offers he sees for software packages that clam to help users make money and magically fix their SEO – for a small fee, of course.

Just as you can’t buy your way to high rankings with ads the chances of a random purchased software package making you money is almost zero. Matt lays out another scenario: “If someone had a foolproof way to make money online, they would probably use that way to make money rather than packaging it up in an ebook and selling it to people.”

In the end, most of the myths are born out of a misunderstanding of Google’s goals. Too many SEO professionals think of their job strictly in terms of increasing visibility and rankings, or upping their ROI. But the search engines are just looking for the best content possible. You can spend your time trying to game and cheat to get to the top, or you can align yourself with the search engine and try to provide users something of value. According to Cutts, that should be enough to fix many of the problems less honest SEOs tend to run into.

You can watch the full video below:

Source: The Search Guru

Source: The Search Guru

Matt Cutts has been urging webmasters to use strong encryption measures on their sites for quite a while, and he has hinted that one day Google may start rewarding those sites in their search results. Google has remained mum on the issue entirely, but there are rumors swirling that Cutts is doubling down and pushing for an algorithm update that would favor secure sites within the company.

At the SMX West conference, Cutts explained why the search engine would benefit from favoring encrypted sites by saying that it would save Google a large amount of time when new security panics occur. According to Time magazine, Cutts is quoted saying, “We don’t have the time to maybe hold your hand and walk you through and show you exactly where it happened.”

It is unclear if these types of changes are likely to be made any time soon, as most sources seem very skeptical. But, in the wake of Heartbleed, one of the most widespread security exploits in history, now would be a reasonable time to increase security guidelines and protocols.

Well, you can’t say nobody warned them. Not long ago, Matt Cutts clearly stated that Google was planning on penalizing large guest blogging networks, and yesterday Google followed through. It was widely assumed Google would be targeting MyBlogGuest, run by Ann Smarty, brand manager of Internet Marketing Ninjas, though Ann continuously defended her site, claiming they would be safe because MyBlogGuest didn’t sell links and wasn’t a “network.”

It turns out everyone but Ann Smarty was right, as Cutts announced on Monday that the guest blog network had been taken down, and MyBlogGuest vanished from the rankings, even for branded terms. Eventually Smarty even confirmed the penalty through Twitter.

MyBlogGuest has been running since 2009, and estimates they were averaging 256 articles posted per day at their height. But, the big problem is that MyBlogGuest had a very open policy on linking and refused numerous times to make it possible for links to be nofollowed.

Jennifer Slegg refers to MyBlogGuest’s true purpose as a “well-known secret” in the industry. Numerous agencies were using MyBlogGuest to promote their clients, while supporting writers who would sell links openly. The website community embraced both, making the more questionable actions wildly obvious to anyone paying attention.

Smarty is still defending her site. Since the take-down, she has spoken to multiple news outlets. She told Search Engine Watch “There are lots of networks that openly abuse the concept and promote paid guest blogging (I won’t list any names; I am not as bad as that!) but they choose to hit the oldest, best-known brand first – does it make sense? Instead of setting a good example, they make it obvious that no one is safe even such good guys as us.”

Notably, it seems that MyBlogGuest isn’t the only entity being punished in this action. Even sites that were only benefiting from the guest blog network’s policies are being struck with manual action penalties.

When Cutts made the announcement that Google had penalized the guest blog network, many speculated that sites who had been heavily using the network would also get cut down to size. Then, many sites began to notice manual actions appearing in their Webmaster Tools, but there was no clear confirmation the two were related. That is, until Cutts cleared up the situation somewhat by tweeting that Google is acting against sites that benefited from any spammy behavior on the site, which could range from running blogs hosting guest posts or benefiting from the bad links.

I could almost feel sorry for the owners of the associated sites being penalized for these behaviors, but Google has been warning about penalties for months without taking action. There has been plenty of time to cut away from questionable guest blogging practices and platforms, but many like Ann Smarty believed they could circumvent the rules. In the future, it is better to just follow the guidelines, rather than becoming the face of a new spammy industry’s downfall.

It is no secret that our use of the internet is becoming more and more mobile, but the day when we actually favor mobile search over desktop connections may be sooner than previously thought.

While speaking at SMX West last week, Google’s Matt Cutts told the crowd he “wouldn’t be surprised” if mobile search exceeded desktop queries by the end of this year. Another Google speaker during an informal round-table gave a similar comment at the International Franchising Association conference in New Orleans earlier this year.

Screen-Shot-2014-03-17-at-6.49.09-AM-600x347

Google refused to give an official statement, but it makes sense. Google doesn’t want anyone to be picking sides. Instead, they want to focus on cross-platform experience and marketing so that we can make the internet equally efficient and useful on every platform.

The comments are assumed to be referring to the global query volumes rather than the US or North America. Globally mobile traffic lies around 30 percent of all internet traffic, and North America has relatively similar ratios. However, many developing countries, such as India, already use mobile search far more often than desktop.

It is inevitable that one day mobile and desktop traffic will either reach a stalemate, or mobile traffic will begin to eclipse home desktop use. But, whether it will be this year is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’d be wagering on sooner rather than later.

Matt Cutts SquareThink Google’s attack on unnatural links and link spammers is limited just to the US? Think again. Google has made it clear they are targeting spammy practices from around the world, by attacking Polish and German link spammers over the past month, and now Matt Cutts has announced Spanish and Italian webmasters breaking guidelines will be the next to get taken down. For more information, you can check out the report from Search Engine Land.

Matt CuttsGoogle has been bringing down the hammer on spammy websites quite a bit recently with more specific penalties for sites that aren’t following guidelines. There have been several high-profile cases such as the Rap Genius penalty, and several attacks on entire spammy industries. But, if you are responsible for sites with spammy habits, a single manual action can hurt more than just one site.

It has been suggested that Google may look at your other sites when they issue manual actions, and Matt Cutts has all but confirmed that happens at least some of the time.

Marie Haynes reached out to Cutts for help dealing with a spammy client, and his responses make it clear that the client appears to be linked to “several” spammy sites. Over the course of three tweets, Cutts makes it obvious that he has checked out many of the spammer’s sites, not just the one who has received a manual action, and he even tells one way Google can tell the sites are associated.

Of course, Google probably doesn’t review every site penalized webmasters operate, but it shows they definitely do when the situation calls for it. If your spammy efforts are caught on one site, chances are you are making the same mistakes on almost every site you operate and they are all susceptible to being penalized. In the case of this client, it seems playing against the rules has created a pretty serious web of trouble.